Swept Away
by Mary Connealy
(Bethany House, $14.99, G) ISBN 978-0-7642-0914-7
When you pick up a book written by an author known for writing inspirational romances and romantic comedies and published by a Christian publishing house, you expect an inspirational romance. When the cover features pictures of a good-looking dude wearing a cowboy hat (who looks far too young and unscathed to be the book’s hero) and a pretty young woman in a pioneer-style dress and a “Trouble in Texas – Book 1” ribbon separating the two, you expect a western inspirational romance. Well, you can’t always tell a book by its cover. Swept Away is light on romance, light on religion, and heavy on the Men-who-Won-the-West theme.

Luke Stone was a Regulator at Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. (The Regulators were a vigilante group who worked to thwart criminal acts among the Union soldiers in the infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp.) In 1868 he’s returning to his ranch outside of Broken Wheel, Texas, in the Palo Duro canyon region. It’s been wrongfully seized by Flint Greer; he’s going to reclaim it. Assisting him are several of his fellow Regulators who have already established themselves in Broken Wheel.

Among these is Darius (Dare) Riker who worked as a medic in Andersonville. He is now the only doctor in town. He is called to Greer’s place to treat his wife Glynna who’s taken a bad fall. Dare is repelled by her hostile attitude; she coldly insists he leave at once. He recognizes her obvious injuries and notices other fading bruises and decides she must be very clumsy. He treats her as best he can and is glad to leave the “snooty” woman behind. He’ll only later come to the realization that she’s a battered wife.

Previously, in Indiana Ruthy MacNeil was taken in the by Reinhardt family when her own family died. She suspects they stole her family farm, and she is supposed to marry the creepy son Virgil when their wagon train reaches California. She’s hoping to make her escape. When the group unwisely tries to cross the Arkansas River in spite of signs there’s been rain upstream, the Reinhardt wagon and others are toppled by flood waters. Ruthy barely survives by grasping onto a floating board.

Luke finds Ruthy, whom he insists on calling Rosie because of her red hair, unconscious and barely alive. After he rescues her, he has no choice but to bring her along to Broken Wheel. In Broken Wheel, she fits right in with Luke and his friends as they plan to retake the ranch. She’s a model of domesticity. Luke soon finds he’s not the only one who notices how pretty she is

Luke meets up with an old ranch hand who tells him how bad things are at the ranch. Luke is even more determined to throw Greer off the land and restore justice to Texas.

So that’s the romance. They meet. They travel a little. They observe how good-looking the other is. It must be love.

The vast majority of the plot focuses on Luke’s plan to regain his ranch. Flint Greer is a bad guy through and through and deserves any retribution coming to him. Ruthy MacNeil turns out to be remarkably resilient. There’s nothing she can’t handle. The foreshadowing that the Reinhardts won’t let Ruthy go comes to nothing.

There are more hints of romance in the relationship between Dare and Glynna who promise to be the principals in the next installment of “Trouble in Texas.” Their relationship is a strong secondary plot in Swept Away. Plus there are several other virile former Regulators in need of some loving in future books.

While there are a few minor references to faith and reliance on heavenly help, Swept Away barely meets the minimum requirements for an inspirational romance. Readers who avoid inspirational romances because of occasional heavy-handed religious themes won’t be offended.

Readers who want a gripping plot with strong character development, however, are not likely to find what they’re looking for in Swept Away. The next book with Dare and Glynna looks to have more promise. (An excerpt is included at the end of this volume.) This book seems to be primarily a springboard for future stories.

--Lesley Dunlap

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